Identity / Knowing and living into one’s God-given self.
To flourish is to find meaning in the midst of struggle, to adapt and grow in response to challenge. In the midst of pandemic, increased awareness of injustice, and the realities of ministry in post-Christian contexts, we don’t lack for challenges! But we do lack a clear picture of what flourishing Christian leadership looks like and how to move towards it.
Flourishing leaders aren’t work-addicted martyrs, and they don’t all work within church walls. A flourishing Christianity requires a more flexible understanding of what ministry is and an inspirited imagination for what it could be.
To research what flourishing leadership and contextually-responsive ministry looks like, Resilient Leaders Project asked alumni of The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology about how they serve. What are the challenges to their wellbeing in that service? What helps them to flourish while serving in complex contexts? Though some of their job titles may be surprising, all these leaders see their careers as expressions of their Christian identity.
In listening to these leaders, we found six common themes–practices and ways of being that other leaders can apply to increase their own flourishing. This blog series will share those themes, one at a time, through the stories of flourishing leaders. To see the other themes and leader profiles, read the Flourishing in Service Report. This week’s theme is identity: leaders need a connection to God that grounds their identity.
Therapist, Podcaster, Author.
I help LQBTQ+ people and allies to live confidently. Much of my work is inviting LGBTQ+ people into flourishing. For so many of us queer folk who grew up in religious contexts, we’ve been told flourishing is not for us or that it looks very different from the way we know we are internally wired. My work is to share the vision that we can be faithful Christ followers who fully live out who we were created to be.
This vision requires a lot of translation work. How do we talk about theology in ways that are fresh and different so that they don’t bring up pain and triggers? And among faith communities, how do we hold the tension of deep division around sexuality and this vision of the eschaton, of what flourishing would look like?
At The Seattle School, I was able to unpack what kept me back from my flourishing, through seeing that God is so much bigger than I imagined and through doing story work at The Allender Center. Something Dr. Stearns talked about is that we have to be full first and then work from our overflow. The Holy Spirit fills us up, and then we work out of that instead of us being completely empty. I learned that if we are working at being healthier people, we can bring others along on that journey
My book, Beyond Shame: Creating a Healthy Sex Life on Your Own Terms, is for folks who grew up within purity culture. How do we work with the sexual shame we’ve been given? How do we create more expansive sexual ethics, without abandoning our values? My hope is that people will find more freedom to explore this world of sex and sexuality.
Knowing that I can only take people as far as I’ve been willing to go in my own journey has been the framework I’ve used over and over as I lead. I don’t know how pastors lead churches faithfully without knowing themselves, their story, how they relate to and impact others–without being fluent in the dark places of their lives. It’s a huge reason why so many younger pastors burn out. They know “how” to be a pastor, but they were never invited to consider how to “be” a pastor.
I’ve learned from Brenè Brown that it’s good to hear from and learn from folks who are critical of you, but it’s not helpful for you to give everyone’s words and ideas equal weight. If the critic isn’t in the arena with you, working to birth the thing you’re working to birth, their words don’t count as much. They may feel strongly, but if they’re not committed to the same future as you and your partners are committed to, then be kind, but pay little attention. Ask, “What is there in this for me to learn?” and then continue doing your work.
Resilience is a necessary attribute of a faithful pastor, and putting my ideas about faith into practice has been key to strengthening the muscles of resilience. Ideas are neat, but practices are sustaining. For instance, consider the difference between just reading the text that says, “rejoice in the Lord always” versus reading the text and then taking the time to write out 100 things that you are thankful for. That’s the difference between knowing we should “rejoice” and practicing the rejoicing. The practice itself can revolutionize how you see the world. Gratitude as a practice is a fear and cynicism killer.
Associate Faculty Counselor at Edmonds Community College, Private Practice Therapist
Working primarily with LGBTQ+ individuals, many of whom have been profoundly harmed by religious institutions, has required me to tease apart what it practically means to serve God and neighbor in my context. At the core of the Christ message for me is the persistent belief that there is a cycle of life, death, and resurrection always trying to unfold. Whether we explicitly name it as Christian or not, I find that all of my clients are wanting to live more fully into this cycle, daily desiring a more full experience of life and identity. In offering a kind witness, I hope to help my clients find the freedom inherent in the Christ cycle.
The biggest challenge to my flourishing has been finding a way to integrate my own evolving spirituality in my work in a way that feels authentic while honoring my doubt and my client’s own spiritual and emotional journeys. There have been a number of moments when I have realized that the Christian “answers” either fail to capture the fullness of the moment with a client or have actually been used to harm one or both of us. At times I’m tempted to throw it all out and reject Spirit in the process. However, in those moments my clients return to something beyond us in the work, and I am reminded that we are both discovering a way forward together.
More than anyone else, my partner provides me with the care I need to stay engaged in this work. He consistently engages my process and talks with me about the many questions I have regarding what it means to be a healing presence in the world.